NRL News

Turnout and the 2012 Presidential Election

by | Jul 16, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

There is a reason the Gallup Poll is pretty much conceded to be the gold standard. Not just that it polls constantly but also because Gallup polls HUGE numbers.

I was out of the loop for much of Friday, so I didn’t get a chance to talk about “Young U.S. Voters’ Turnout Intentions Lagging,” by Jeffrey M. Jones. There are ways for President Obama to win without reigniting the fire in younger voters and minorities but it would be like threading the eye of the needle.

So what did Gallup find out? Since this is a comparison to prior elections,  let’s work backwards. In the latter stages of the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, the percentage of 18-29 year olds who said they would “definitely vote” in the fall was  6 and 7 points lower, respectively, that the national average.

That gap is now 20 points —78% for the national average, 58% for the 18-29 year set. Jones writes, “The results are based on an analysis of May 1-July 10 Gallup Daily tracking interviews with more than 30,000 registered voters, and more than 2,800 18- to 29-year-old registered voters.” That is a LOT of people (

But looking back at what happened in 2004 and 2008 Jones correctly concludes  that this gap may shrink as we approach the November 6 election,  “but there would need to be a larger increase than occurred in 2004 and 2008 to indicate their turnout levels might match those from the last two elections.” This is me, not Jones speaking, but that is not likely going to happen for all the reasons we’ve written about the past few months.

There are two other interesting results. African-American voters cast their ballot for President Obama in enormous numbers—over 90%. Like other groups polled by Gallup, those Black Americans who say they will definitely vote is down from 2004 and 2008, although (unlike 18-29 year olds) it is very close to the national average.

Jones concludes

“It is unclear whether the percentage of black registered voters who say they will definitely vote will increase significantly over the course of the campaign, as occurred for young voters in the past two campaigns. In June 2008, 84% of black registered voters said they would definitely vote, compared with 87% at the end of the campaign, suggesting little change over time. In 2004, however, black voting intentions did increase significantly from June (78%) to October (88%).”

Hispanics are closer, in this poll, to the 18-29 year olds.

“Currently, 64% of Hispanic voters say they will definitely vote, 14 points below the national average. In the fall of 2008, Hispanic turnout intentions were eight points below the national average. Gallup does not have data on Hispanic turnout intentions prior to October 2008, so it is unclear how the current figures compare to the summer of 2004 or 2008.”

Jones drew these implications:

This preliminary look at the data suggests young voters will not turn out at the same rate as in 2008, even if they show an expected increase in voting intention over the course of the campaign. Black turnout appears as though it will be similar to that for all voters, though participation among Hispanics could be lower. Turnout among all voters in 2012 may also be lower than in the past two presidential elections, both of which had above-average turnout from a historical perspective.”

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Categories: Polling